- Category: IS History
- Published on Tuesday, 30 July 2013
- Written by Jim Higgins
Since the 1974 I.S. Conference there has been a serious decline in the activity, cohesion and spirit in the Group. The debates in 1974 - on the R&F [Rank and File] Movement, on Socialist Worker, democracy in I.S., building the party and a number of subsidiary questions were at that time unclear. Underlying divisions were only partially worked through. Five- months later it is clear that nothing significant is solved in 1974 and the- issues are now much clearer. The R&F Movement is a hollow shell, SW [Socialist Worker] has been transformed from a paper that led the Group into a part of the baggage carried by an increasingly confused membership. Democracy in I.S is rapidly becoming the right to agree with the Cotton Gardens [National Office] version of revealed truth. Coherent and consistent political leadership is noticeably absent communication between the branches and the centre is virtually nor-existent. The members are disorientated and branches drift along without receiving any consistent direction. Structures do not work and we are once again in the fruitless, search for the perfect organisational alternative. It is now admitted, by Cliff, that the- factory branches are weak, small in number and ineffective. The brave promises of last-year for increased membership and influence look increasingly hollow in the light of current reality.
It is possible to lay the blame on the personnel at the Centre and some of them bear a heavy responsibility it is possible, and partially true, to talk about the increasing difficulties in the outside world. But none of this is enough. The problem is one of political method and political analysis, and direction. In this document we hope to throw some light on how we came to the present sorry situation and to point' to some way out of the difficulty. This is not a nostalgic revel in polemical debate but a very real concern for I.S. what it was and what it can be. The next few months will be crucial for the organisation - it really is necessary to get things straight.
The simple ABC of perspective writing is not merely to produce an accurate description, but to draw a clear picture of the world in which we operate and to orient the cadre towards revolutionary activity and the construction of the party. This is central and indispensable and it is in this sense that we would criticise the perspectives set out by the E.C.
We agree that there is a crisis of capitalism internationally. We agree that Britain has been able to avoid the worst rigours of unemployment and slump due to the large influx of petro—dollars. We accept fully the rightward drift of the trade union bureaucracy. .We agree that the phenomenon of 'Bennery' [Tony Benn] is not an expression of a left wing, we would go further and say that it is an expression of state capitalism as a model for the revivifying of British capitalism. Incidentally, the perspectives document should be read with some care in SW, where they seem to see an equation between Benn and Prentice, which is just not the case.
We do have a less catastrophic view of the likelihood of the oil deposits disappearing from the City of London )for the good and sufficient reason that the Arabs have only New York as the alternative site for their deposits – a pplace that has distinct political disadvantages for them) but we certainly agree that there is a degree of crisis in the instability in British capitalism that must give some sleepless nights to the upper echelons of the system.
Having agreed on all this, we are still dissatisfied and not through factional malice. Our complaint is that the broad sweep of the perspectives is not accompanied by a serious attempt to fit the activity of the group into the perspectives. The class analysis is missing. A kite, no larger than Duncan Hallas’s right hand , has been flown in I.S Journal and the I.B. suggesting that there is a possibility of a centrist split in the Labour Party, "Whatever one thinks of the correctness of this notion, it at least specific , it also if accepted requires specific activity from the comrades not necessarily short of entry work.in the LP. Again at the March NC the suggestion was made "by a leading EC member not without political distinction, that the prospect was for the Arab oil deposits to be withdrawn within the next six months. Now such a possibility carries with it certain political conclusions flowing from the collapse of the pound sterling, if not the very system itself. The whole of bourgeois politics would be set on its collective car, governments of national unity and all manner of splits and differentiations in conventional parties would be on the cards. That is something that has certain conclusions for our activity. The only one drawn at the NC was that that there was no time for lengthy discussion before the crash.
Our differences are net in the general analysis but in the disconnection between the generalities and the specific course of action.
From the mass actions of last year we have moved into a far more complicated area of diffused localised struggles. Unemployment, short time and the prospect of large scale redundancies are the external signs of the crisis and they are a reason for the less ready acceptance by workers of militant activity and slogans. It is no longer possible to recruit on the basis of a generalised strike offensive. Politics becomes the key question in terms of recruitment and the maintenance of the members and the building of a cadre. As another manifestation of the crisis we get new possibilities as at- Imperial Typewriters to make consistent politics a reality to numbers of workers. At Leyland and at Chrysler we have opportunities for bringing the question of combine organisation and action to the fore and to politicise a whole new audience. We have a number of possibilities in the unions and in the factories if we take the trouble to actually elucidate serious policies, political policies. We might even revive the factory branches if we were to seriously develop the political intervention in that area, instead they decline, with that decline used as the excuse for such absurdities as the SW Supporters scheme.
The real indictment that we level at the present leadership is that they are unable to connect either the perspectives with the members or develop the leadership that would do so. The changes in the line that we have witnessed over the last period seem more concerned with the internal situation in I.S than in the real world outside. Perspectives are written to the I.S Conference calendar not to the objective needs of the political operation of the members outside. SW episodically, fitfully and not very well attempts to fill the gap made by the disconnection of the leaders and led in in I.S and it should be a mutual process of development. Unless those links are restored and strengthened the prospect is for more disputes, more mistakes and a ready loss of comrdes.
One of the saddest examples of the deterioration of I.S. over the last period has been the SW. To measure the current reality with the crave promises of April 1974, is to underline the sterility of current political methods of leadership. The argument last year was about what audience the paper should aim for. We were told that the traditional audience that we had always directed the paper to, advanced industrial militants, was now basically non-political. The aim should now be to direct- our propaganda to the young, traditionless but rebellious workers. The pay-off in terms of increased circulation, membership and influence would be terrific. In the event two journalists were sacked for daring to disagree and the paper lost its distinctive approach without finding another. There has been a decline in influence, a loss of circulation, and worst of all, declining interest on the part of the readership. With some pain the leadership had rid the payroll of two dissidents and has added nothing except a growing distrust, even among those who otherwise- might agree with them.
A criticism that is frequently levelled at the paper is that it is not political enough. This criticism, while true, does not explain what the politics should be. There are political articles but when they are not wrong, as they have frequently been on the Labour Party, they are episodic, descriptive and do not actually help the members in their day to day activity. This is not primarily the fault of the journalists, their task is to carry through, as readably as they are capable, the political line of the EC/EC. But revolutionary politics is about analysis and action. There is for example a festering disagreement within the AUEW fraction about whether or not to work in the broad left caucus in that union. The dispute has gone on for ever a year without resolution. Without going into the merits of the argument ( in fact we support the general line of the Birmingham comrades) what is needed is a serious discussion with all the comrades in which the general perspective is related to the tasks in the AUEW. We could then develop policies and programmes for the engineering work, that could be popularised in the paper returned with reports of activity - successes and failures - a continuing discussion could take place directed to serious activity.
Workers inside and outside could be invited to write and contribute to the living development of policy. That example could be multiplied throughout most of the groups’ activity. It is not done, either because it is not considered important, or because the necessary preparatory work in the fractions has not taken place. The result is drift, do as you please until caught out being dissident, and the loss of credibility to the paper. The SW should be the political expression of I.S that develops with and help to develop I.S. It should not be a collection of strike reports, nor is it the repository of the odd piece that signals a turn decided behind closed doors at Cotton Gardens. Regular non-I.S worker readers of the paper should be over time be able to grasp political outlines of I.S., its distinctive political style and content. It should be the mainstay of the group and its advance guard in the factories. The old dispute about – ‘A paper for the workers’, against ‘A workers paper’ is not the question at issue. A workers paper is not necessarily written by workers, it is one that generalises the revolutionary message so that it has relevance to wider audience than otherwise be possible. SW is not such a paper (nor is it a paper under the Leninist definition) it must be transformed into an I.S instrument for intervention in the class struggle.
The Rank and File Movement
Alongside the decline in the effectiveness of I.S as seen through the paper and the internal life has heen the emptying out of the high hopes in the R&F Movement. Last March (1974) we had the inaugural conference. That event was not without significance, it could have marked a turning point, it did not. The impetus of the conference evaporated in the long pause that followed. No attempt was made to set up to begin the process of setting up local organisation, at whatever level was possible. The key question of rapid development of an independent organisation was either misunderstood or ignored. We have now an organisation that can call one day conferences and is firmly under our control, the CP has one .just like it, only bigger, called the LCDTU. [Laison Committee for Defence of Trade Unions]. The six months between the first and second conferences were wasted and the nest six look like being equally fruitless. A measure of error is marked by the fact that the report of the organisation commission sees a primary role for the worker NC members on the organising committee of the R&F Movement. The R&F Movement is not, nor should it be, the property of I.S into which it can decant leadership from above. The leadership is something that should arise from workers, in or out of I.S who are agreed on the programme and have a following in industry. The accusation increasingly levelled by the CP and other hostile elements in the trade unions is that the R&F Movement is an I.S. front. It becomes increasingly difficult to contradict them.
The theory of the rank and file movement is not that it is an auxiliary arm of the revolutionary organisation but that by its independent autonomous existence it is provides the arena through which workers will be able to struggle more effectively and which will in that very struggle bring new and tested workers to the party. It is not too late even now to make amends but there is not very much time left.
Work with Women
One area that has received fitful and arbitrary attention of the leadership has been the problem of recruiting and organising women. The strange thesis evolved in which the only women worth having were ‘women workers’. This weird, one sided analysis in reality saw women workers as basically the same as men, just with rather less developed trade union consciousness. The correct, political, emphasis on working class women was seen as a retreat into a middle class fantasy about sex and sexism. The truth is that women have a multitude of pressures, in the home and at the work which cannot be encompassed in a simple application of trade union and political militancy. This mistaken attitude that women were to become a key factor in their equal pay offensive. That offensive has not occurred and the failure of the perspective is the failure to appreciate that women workers have to face, and at least partially, to overcome their problems as women before they can confront their problems as workers. A low level SW is not sufficient and is something of an insult. Even more serious, it does not work and loses the organisation numbers of working class women who could otherwise become members. With women, as to a lesser extent with other workers, the reasons for joining revolutionary politics are not just the economic struggle and the extension of industrial militancy. That should be understood and catered for in our work. Womens Voice should reflect this analysis and should be a paper for working class women members, wives of members, and contacts to write for and sell to their friends and work-mates, not necessarily in large factories as we have so few major women militants at this stage. It should reflect the diversity of the issues that women around our periphery are involved in, and act as an organiser in these struggles. Womens Voice was written by working class women about the issues they wanted to write about. It is now much more professionally produced but has lost touch with the real concerns of our women members. It is now aimed at women with a developed trade union consciousness and is much harder to sell to women involved in community issues and in small, semi-organised places.
Of some significance in this area we have another example of the strange contortions of the leadership in the appointment of a women's full-timer. At the last conference, against the strong opposition of the EC the delegates decided to appoint an editor/organiser for Womens Voice, which would go to monthly publication.
The two leading spirits in this were comrades Barbara Kerr and Celia Deacon. Comrade Kerr applied for the full-time job, on Ec recommendation she was rejected because her NUT experience was insufficient for ‘women workers’. In short she and comrade Deacon were forced off the women's sub-committee and comrade Sheila MacGregor appointed women's organiser, her superiority to Barbara Kerr seems to lie in her complete lack of any trade union experience and a strong and long-held opposition to Womens Voice and the need for any sort of separate work with women. If the EC want to get rid of Womens Voice and to cease women's work let them say so and fight for that point of view. If, as seems likely, they fail then for once let them submit to the discipline that they insist on for others.
As with all aspects of I.S work our perspectives on women should be as comprehensive as possible and capable of being operated by members. The crisis will bear with additional hardship on working class women; it will affect every aspect of their lives. Just stabbing at unrelated aspects of their situation in the hope working up a campaign will not inspire our members and will not impress the women we should be organising and recruiting.
Democracy in IS
One of the casualties of the last period has been democracy. At no time in the past have we had a membership less well informed than they are today. How this is no small question of avoidance of gossip, the comrades will gossip anyway, and it night as well be on the basis of fact rather than rumours. Democracy and internal discussion are not luxuries reserved for halcyon days of propaganda group politics. Democracy is the lifeblood of revolutionary politics, without it the organisation will decline in effectiveness and membership. The decline to a more and more restricted regime is not just part of a personal aberration in the EC but to a political method that has a long tradition in revolutionary organisations, even if it is a novelty in I.S.
The current rationalisation for the clamp-down is basically efficiency and security. To take the question of security first. Nothing that we can reasonably do will avoid the attentions of the Special Branch. So long as we maintain an organisation of any recognisable kind we will be the subject of successful attempts to learn our interne! affairs, Modern technology makes it unnecessary for the state-security agencies infiltrate I.S., although we have no doubt they do. Every meeting held in public halls, and some held in private, can be overheard by electronic surveillance. The argument for security is spurious, in effectiveness and if seriously intended would reduce us to complete impotence, something perhaps that the Special Branch would like very much. You cannot keep secrets from the police; you can all too easily keep them from the members.
If we disregard, as we should, the argument for security we are left with the question of efficiency. This raises a point of some significance, is efficiency the rapid conclusion of debate by a restricted number of people who all agree with one another? Surely it is the case that revolutionary efficiency is accomplished by the development of the greatest number of comrades, - and in the widest membership understanding of overall politics and how they fit in, and will work for those politics? Current proposals for the banning of visitors to the conference, for one delegate per 30 members, elected on a district basis will have the opposite effect. It is argued in the document of the Organisational Commission that I.S conferences are more akin to rallies, with the exercise of demagogy and crown pleasing from the floor and platform. A small conference dealing in depth with key questions in splendid isolation from the distraction of I.S members would , they say, be a great advance.
The truth is that the form of the discussion and whether it deals with hey questions is a function of the agenda and the quality of the pro-conference discussion. Both of these items it is within the power of the central leadership to deal with - they have shown no discernible inclination to do so. The IB, (in this we particularly condemn the absurd exercise in the theory of bookselling) has contained no documents that would enable anyone to orient around a clear political discussion. The degree of demagogy at any meeting is not related to its size but to the quality of the speeches and the speakers, some of us have been to this oratorical style in the NC, the EC and even the EC sub-committees. The conference is part of the life of I.S – it can be if properly organised a positive inspiration to the comrades. Under the current ground rules it will become the object of suspicion. With the new proposals on district discussion and elections we enter the area where the word ‘gerrymander’ seems not appropriate.
The objections to this district scheme are many. In the first place there are no more than a handful of effective, operational districts with the capacity to organise proper pre-conference discussion. In most districts the district aggregate will be the victim of all the ills that are alleged to afflict our national conferences to date. Demagogy and intimidation are implicit within this scheme. We would remind the comrades of the discussion of two years ago, on the discussion on the introduction of factory branches. One of the great merits claimed at that time was the fact that factory branches, as opposed to factory cells, would enable the worker comrades to be better represented at conference. The latest idea will jettison this this desirable objective into the same old geographical electoral base. Further, the highly restrictive adoption of the one in thirty rule will moan that most districts will have only two or at most three delegates. The members will be hard pressed for a report-back under those circumstances. There is no good reason at all for this ridiculous shift in the role of the conference, there are far too many reasons at all for the losses the group will sustain internally to allow the scheme to go without making strenuous efforts to alter the EC/NC's mind.
The National Committee
The problem of the relationship between NC and the EC is a hardy annual. At conference after conference we are told that the introduction of a greater and greater number of workers would both reflect our growing influence in the class and resolve the problems. Each year we have more and, briefly, all is sweetness and light. With a dreadful inevitability the situation changes – the comrades, workers and others are rapidly faced up to a situation where they are theoretically in control but are unable to exercise that control on monthly basis. The NC members, with the worker members well to the fore, become ‘disaffected’, vote ‘negatively’ or absent themselves altogether. The EC find annoying the distressing habit of the NC to set at nought their well, or ill, conceived plans. The solution currently canvassed and run through the NC is for a new body exclusively composed of full-time workers called a Central Committee meeting weekly with an even more redundant NC meeting every two months.
If the CC means anything other than a name conjured out of a conditioned reflex it must replace the NC. Whether the NC meets for two days or two weeks at whatever frequency will make no difference, either there will be found a way of integrating and learning from the experience of our worker comrades or there will not. These proposals are an evasion of the real failure - to build a worker leadership in I.S. The chance has once again been missed to set up a commissions of the workers that will actually inform the production of policy. Instead we have the same old story of the wise-heads submitting the finished article to a, hopefully, passive N.C.
The method of the regime is essentially one of politics. Either we are serious about worker leadership and building a workers party or we are fooling with the cadre. The current method is a pragmatic adaptation to whatever pressure exists from day to day. If an obstacle is encountered it must be ignored or circumvented or blown up. It does not seem to occur to thorn that to members of the NC, the members in the branches and the fractions are not obstacles but a part of an I.S. They are not agent provocateur or evilly intended elements. Comrades join I.S. for a number of reasons, but essentially to build, a vehicle for socialism. If in the process they see things differently, right or wrong, that is a fact of life that must be worked out in life, the life of the organisation. Brecht in a satirical piece on the East German regime- spoke of them: 'Dissolving the people and electing a new one. Distressing though it may be the people are not dissolved at the whim or the vote of the most immaculate- central committee.
What is to be Done
This document is a draft, the basis for discussion. It does not pretend to be an exhaustive account and the conclusions are tentative and subject to amendment after submission to the helpful criticism of the comrades who are broadly in sympathy with its central thrust. We believe that the issues before us are really the credibility and viability of I.S as the future revolutionary party.
We believe that this question is raised more and more sharply by the developments in the world outside and the course of the present leadership in I.S. These are issues of considerable importance and we are prepared to fight as hard as necessary to defend the past traditions of I.S. and its future revolutionary prospects. If this means forming a faction on the limited programme of political perspectives and internal democracy we are ready and willing to do so. We invite your support and participation in this much needed overdue work.
-The broad platform on which we stand is:
- For genuine democratic centralist organisation.
- For a worker leadership which actually leads and does not perform a purely symbolic function.
- For the democratic centralist right of the members to be involved discussion and formulation of policy.
- For a serious and consistent policy of Marxist education in I.S.
- For proper communication and administration in I.S.
- For a serious perspective that relates I.S. politics to the practical activity of the members, worked out in conjunction with the fractions and groups of members concerned.
- For a drastic reappraisal of the work in the R&F movement, with the intention of ensuring the existence of a strong independent movement.
- The S.W [ Socialist Worker] should be transformed into a paper that consistently put over I.S politics, with a particular appeal to advanced industrial workers, but not leaving out the popular exposition of historical, theoretical, contemporary political questions.
- For an end to arbitrary and ill thought out schemes of re-organisation that effectively reduce the rights of the members.
Note. In the immediate future, before the conference, we urge all comrades to protest at, the changes proposed and carried at the March N.C. - to ban visitors to conference, to alter the basis of delegacy, and the decision to have district based election of delegates. Resolutions demanding the reversal of these policies should be sent in time the April N,C, (l9th April)
N.B. A number of questions have been left out of this draft and we hope to incorporate thorn as a result of further discussion.